Slicing Into a Sourdough Rainbow: Bread Art From a Baker's Son
At the height of lockdown nearly a year ago, one thing was clear: everyone and their mother was baking sourdough bread at home. Indeed, the most-Googled recipe of 2020 in the United States was "sourdough bread" (and it was #3 globally). Those who have been nursing their sourdough starter ever since know that each loaf is part science, part unique work of art — affected by its ingredients and environment, and even the love and attention it receives.
While sourdough fatigue may have set in for some, for others the passion of sourdough art does not end there. Enter Nikos Chandolias, whose loaves take the art of breadmaking to new heights. Images of his sourdough boules, showcased on his Instagram account @frommydadsbakery, invoke gasps of wonderment. What look like typical loaves from the outside are sliced open to reveal freeform shapes in seemingly all colors of the rainbow, a result that is both organic and deliberate at the same time. Just one scroll through his Instagram feed and we wanted to learn more — not just about his inspiration for creating these oven-baked masterpieces, but just how on earth it is even possible!
Nikos was kind enough to share his passion with us and tell us more about his love for baking, nurtured by memories of his father, who was a professional baker. Nikos also generously shared some tips and tricks for experimenting with your own sourdough art at home.
Allrecipes: What is your background?
Nikos: "I come from a small town in northern Greece called Katerini near Mount Olympus. My family is the typical Greek family, with two working parents and a younger sister. I literally grew up in a bakery. All my childhood memories revolve around my father's business, a very successful artisanal bakery (hence my Instagram handle @frommydadsbakery). I studied in Greece and then Canada, and am now based in London, where I am the Head of Technology at the art collective Random International."
Did you learn to bake growing up, are you professionally trained, or both?
"As a baker's son, learning how to bake, consciously or unconsciously, was inevitable. One of my first childhood memories is the image of my father kneading the bread in between stacks of flour. My father recently passed away, but the smell of freshly baked bread will always remind me of him. He was my role model and taught me that patience and persistence are the most fundamental ingredients to get the perfect loaf. My Instagram account @frommydadsbakery is an homage to my father's legacy and a way to bring a family tradition into my own dimensions with a focus on sourdough and all-natural ingredients. For me, baking is neither a hobby nor a profession; it's a passion that I continuously try to evolve by participating in seminars, bake-off groups, and so on."
What was your inspiration for creating these beautifully colored sourdough loaves?
"In an attempt to combine tradition with new techniques, I started experimenting with my baked goods. I enjoyed juxtaposing the greyness of London with my colorful loaves. My recipes are inspired by travels I have made or places I have lived in, family recipes, memories, and of course improvisations. One day I am baking an Israeli babka, the next one I am perfecting an artisanal panettone!"
"When I come up with an idea, I write it down and design it on paper first. Then I calculate the amount of dough needed and the flavor profiles I want to create. Only then the baking process can start."
Is there a color that is hard to work with or something that didn't turn out the way you had expected?
"The power of chemistry! I've been playing with adding natural pigments to my sourdough bakes by using beets, carrots, and organic extracts amongst many other things. While most colors are somewhat straightforward to achieve — like turmeric yellow — getting the red hue to stick to the bread is quite difficult. Most of my initial attempts to bake with beets or any other red pigment, like hibiscus tea or strawberries, turned out brown-ish after baking. Everything tasted pretty good, but the beautiful bright red/pink color was every time lost during baking."
"After many trial-and-error attempts, I finally found, in the depths of the Internet, the way to maintain the red hue in the dough. The secret to bright red color in bakes is… (drumroll!) adding some Vitamin C. A good rule of thumb is to add 1 teaspoon for every 250 grams [1 cup] of beet puree. It works like magic, but it is actually pure science. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps the betalain pigments (what makes beets red) to protect themselves from enzymes that cause them to lose their color."
Are the colorings all-natural? Where do you source them?
"Absolutely, yes! Natural food coloring can be made with many ingredients and we probably already have most of them in our pantry or fridge. There are many ways in which you can add natural food coloring to your dough. The methods I most often use are fresh vegetable or fruit juice, dry spices, herbs, dried vegetables or fruits, or fruit or vegetable pureés. There are some other ways to achieve interesting colors in your dough, like by using concentrated vegetable or fruit syrups or molasses or adding some type of infused oils to the dough."
"I am always trying to source the ingredients I use from local organic farms and shops because I believe they give you the healthiest and best-looking results. One thing to consider with natural food coloring is that color equals flavor. The larger the dosages and the more concentrated the liquid or powder you use, the more prominent and pronounced the flavor will be. That's why I always consider what meal my bread will accompany in order to design its flavor profile accordingly."
Is there anything exciting that's happened since you started sharing your loaves on Instagram?
"The fact that I can communicate via Instagram with other food bloggers, followers, and friends is something that I enjoy immensely. It is incredible to me that this community has formed around sourdough bread making. We come closer, we discuss, we inspire, we exchange ideas and we all evolve. Apart from anything else, we make the pandemic confinement (which is hopefully coming to an end soon) more manageable, giving another dimension to 'procrastibaking.' I am humbled by the fact that I am able to participate in many IG baking groups with weekly bake-offs, as well as exchange tips and gifts with experienced bakers and bread enthusiasts from all over the world."
Do you think anyone could try making a colored loaf like this, or is it something that requires a lot of practice and technical skill?
"I would encourage anyone interested in making, colorful or not, sourdough bread to give it a go. I think the biggest challenge is not to be disappointed when something does not turn out the way you want it to be or as you have imagined it. For a good result, a great deal of testing is required, a lot of adjustments, and a lot of observation. There are many Instagram accounts with perfect loaves and incredibly open crumbs, and all that is great, but we must not forget that most things online are overly curated, and often in real life there can be imperfections. Even people who have been doing this for years have baking failures. Behind a good effort, there are many failures, but this is how we learn to be better at it."
"Moreover, the perfect loaf is subjective and depends on many factors, such as the flour you have at your disposal, the temperature in your space, the season, the equipment and so much more that you can really only learn from experience and improve over time."
"The first step would be to choose a good local flour of your choice (white hard, whole wheat, etc.) and notice how it behaves under specific conditions (temperature and humidity). Little by little, once you understand how all the factors work together, and how that affects your dough, you can start experimenting with adding more ingredients to it."
Follow Nikos on Instagram at @frommydadsbakery for more of his sourdough art, techniques, and inspiration.
For Your Own Sourdough Adventures
Get started on your sourdough journey with our recipe collections and how-to guides: